Two teachers have shaped Natalie Peacey's life. The first was her own primary teacher, Mrs Pidd. "She was everything a teacher should be: lively, enthusiastic and always funny." The second was Libby Smetham, her guide and mentor on teaching practice in her native Hartlepool. She was a great support and a great friend, says Natalie. Better still, she married that year and moved away, and Natalie got her job. She's never looked back.
That was seven years ago. West View primary, which serves one of the most deprived wards in the region, was different then. But it had a new head, Andy Brown, and Natalie was his first appointment. They were the nucleus of a team that was to bring about what has been recognised locally and nationally as a transformation. "It was Andy's vision," Natalie says, "but now it's shared. We've broken the barrier between deprivation and achievement. If you believe in children, children believe in themselves."
At school, you see the words in action. Natalie is key stage 1 co-ordinator, assistant head, and lead teacher in the LEA. In the words of her classroom learning assistant, Ann Dean, she is "stimulating, enthusiastic, and constantly challenging".
Children talk about the journeys of imagination their lessons become. They have been pirates, Zulu warriors, princes and princesses. Recently, one of them said, with conviction: "We went to London and had tea with the Queen."
On the day I visit, the classroom venue is Spain. There is lots of learning (they all write postcards home) and lots of fun: music, orange juice "sangria", paper plates with tomatoes and chorizo, bread with olive oil. And Natalie, with costume and castanets, a real flamenco dancer. She says it's the teaching that matters - and getting the target-setting and the levelling right. "You have to focus always on the impact of what you are doing."
Does she ever relax? "I like going to the gym: with friends, though, never solo. Ditto running. I have my family, my partner and a gorgeous one-year-old nephew. I love my job. I'm very lucky."
The final of the Teaching Awards will be held in London on October 24 and will be broadcast on BBC2 the same day at 7pm. Nominations for next year's awards are open at www.teachingawards.com